Wrestling adds to PSU exposure

Penn State wrestling matches against Ohio State this afternoon (noon, BTN) and at Iowa on Saturday (9 p.m., BTN) provide additional exposure for the nation’s top-ranked program – and good TV for viewers.

A week ago, No. 1 Penn State hosted Pitt and drew an announced record crowd of 15,996 to the Bryce Jordan Center. Yes, the Nittany Lions have become that big of a draw – and this afternoon’s match in Rec Hall should be similarly noteworthy, with the return of two-time national champion Ed Ruth, who missed the first five dual meets of the season because of a violation of team rules.

Penn State wrestling provides good TV for several reasons, the primary one being its dominant personalities and talents. Standouts such as David Taylor, Matt Brown and Ruth top that list with their aggressive styles and success. Such talent exists up and down the lineup.

For non-wrestling fans, it’s probably not must-see action, but the sport plays well on TV because the one-on-one nature of the competition, which is contested in a comparatively small area, allows cameras to get up close on the action.

Plus, Penn State and Iowa (the host sites for this week’s matches) have experienced former wrestlers who can help their sport translate well when they work analysts.

Although neither will hold a similar role for this afternoon’s match vs. Ohio State, play-by-play man Brian Tripp and analyst Quentin Wright, a two-time national champion and four-time All-American for PSU, were strong during the Pitt broadcast.

Tripp, a former wrestler himself, kept viewers engaged, let the action speak for itself and regularly set up Wright for insightful comments. To his credit, Wright made the most of the openings.

There’s just one thing Penn State needs to fix for televised matches – and for wrestling matches in general on campus. Those young women who wander around the edge of the mat, towels in hand, to notify referees when a period ends need to be relieved of their duties.

At Rec Hall (and even for a once-a-year match at the BJC), officials are supported by million-dollar scoreboards and sound systems that would seem capable of providing a buzzer to adequately notify the referees when a period ends.

By not letting that happen, viewers (in person and on TV) instead get a high-school feel with female volunteers carrying rolled up towels to tap a referee on the back when a period ends. And they’re blocking the view of some fans while that happens.

Bowl business

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell might encourage the NCAA to relent on Penn State’s bowl ban as part of the sanctions against the football program, and if that happens it might not be public for months.

Still, there’s a more logical reason some people might lobby for the decision. It comes down to money and TV programming – and it’s already an obvious need.

Just seven Big Ten Conference teams earned bowl berths this season, and the conference has eight bowl relationships. Not that anyone was pining for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, but the spot was to be filled by a Big Ten team. Instead, it went to Pitt, which faces Bowling Green.

Overall, this year’s bowl lineup includes 35 games and the roster of bowl-eligible teams who did not get a berth is not all that impressive. It includes 8-4 Western Kentucky, 7-5 Toledo and a bunch of 6-6 teams.

A 7-5 Penn State squad looks awfully nice by comparison, and it’s logical to think someone is already making that argument on behalf of the Big Ten, on behalf of the Nittany Lions and even on behalf of ESPN, which wants the highest-possible ratings for the more than two dozen bowl games it broadcasts.

Next year the bowl lineup grows to 39 games with additions in Boca Raton, Miami, Montgomery, Ala., and the Bahamas.

Tuner tidbits

n Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch has found a nice role – for himself and for fans – working Steelers radio broadcasts. He’s informative and insightful without coming across as much of a homer. He shares his experiences specific to the team but does not seem blinded by his Black and Gold experiences. It’s good radio.

n Tonight’s Bengals-Steelers game was “flexed” from an afternoon start time to “Sunday Night Football” because of potential playoff implications. Although the Steelers have pretty much played themselves out of the playoffs since that decision was made, they almost invariably play entertaining and interesting games. So it should be good TV, with Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth working the game for NBC Sports and referee Ed Hochuli leading the officiating crew.

Sampsell can be reached at talkingtvsports@gmail.com.